When the Lord drew me into the dark room several years ago (see In the Dark Room with God), He began to reveal the very real and practical meaning of scripture and His truth through pictures He’d show me in my mind’s eye. I wouldn’t call them visions, but literal pictures or visuals that immediately convey something spiritual in the context of the physical, like what Jesus did with parables: He taught spiritual truths through natural or earthly examples we can relate to as humans.
The first day I sat across from my mentor Doris (see When You Want to Be Jesus-Sets-You-Free Free), I was exhausted and ready to get to the bottom of what seemed like an endless pit of hopeless strongholds. Have you ever been there? Maybe you’re there now. Let me just say, there is hope, because Jesus doesn’t just offer hope, He is hope, and He wants you to hope in Him. Stick around and that’s exactly what I hope we’ll discover and experience together!
One of the first pictures God gave me was of a tree that represents my life: my looks, choices, accomplishments, failures, character, values, thoughts, mindsets, beliefs, attitudes, strengths, flaws, words, etc. One of the reasons I was at the end of myself was because I was constantly whacking at problem branches in my life with the machete of perfection. As I desperately swung at the bad branches by focusing my efforts on performance and behavior modification, I was getting nowhere, because even when I managed to make some progress, there was always another branch. If successfully severing a rotten branch from the tree brought an end to a particularly troublesome behavior, another branch would simply take its place!
No matter how fast, furious or forceful I swung my machete, and no matter how many branches I trimmed off my tree, there were always new and more branches because the root remained. The very thing that was producing the branches lay deep below the tree and produced new branches every time.
Here are the rules of nature at play in this picture. The root is the life source. Kill the root and the branches eventually die and fall off. Direct the root system into good soil, and the tree will produce healthy, life giving branches! Leave the sick root system, and eventually the whole tree dies. It has to be cut down and hauled off. Then a stump grinder has to be brought in to destroy what’s left and keep it from being an obstacle.
In the spiritual realm, we need new roots! In the process the Bible calls sanctification or transformation, the Holy Spirit rids us of old roots in sin and roots us instead in Christ. We never arrive; it’s a constant pruning process (see John 15).
The root that lies beneath our sinful choices – sin! – is the root we want the Lord to kill as we become more and more established in Him and His truth! What we see on the outside, then, begins to reflect our new roots.
While a machete is a very effective tool for clearing tall grass and brush, it is not the best choice for sawing off tree branches, grinding out stumps and killing roots! We need different tools.
Perfection and performance were tools that stopped working for me. They were weapons of this world I learned in order to survive and seek from others what only the Lord could give me. These weapons are useless in spiritual battle.
Look at what Paul says about weapons:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).
Whacking at sick branches with my machete was warring according to the flesh: I was continuing to use the weapons of my old sin nature rather than walking by the Spirit in newness of life. When I turned to Jesus and began to trust the Father and rely on the Holy Spirit, the Lord took the chainsaw of truth and started sawing off branches. He started cutting up the trunk, one section at a time.
As the inside of a tree trunk contains rungs that reveal its age, so my insides – my thoughts, beliefs and heart attitudes – revealed rungs of what amounted to decades of idolatry, deceit and sin. The closer the Lord got to the root, the clearer and more distinct the rungs in my trunk; they revealed more, and He exposed more.
And then the Holy Spirit started exposing roots. He ministered to me in truth from God’s word, and God’s word seeped like root killer into strongholds of sin! As I focused on Him, He ground up the stumps!
Trunks that once appeared to be immovable obstacles on my path to truly living free and served as conduits for the root of sin to produce branches or symptoms of that sin in my life are disappearing – stump and root to boot! Don’t get me wrong, there’s a forest for the Lord to deal with! But in His faithfulness, as He thins the forest, I am able to see Him clearer. See His truth clearer. See His plans and purposes clearer. See others clearer – the way He sees them. See my mission and assignment clearer. See my sin clearer.
One of the trees that produced a lifetime of sick branches in my forest was the tree of bulimia. You might not struggle with an eating disorder, so let’s say it could be a tree of pride, a tree of worry, a tree of selfishness, a tree of alcoholism or drug abuse or pornography or people pleasing or over eating or control, or…, or…, or… You get the picture, right?
The branches would be my mindsets, attitudes, emotions, choices and behaviors: the different ways I praised or punished myself for how I looked. If I felt good about myself, I would allow myself to eat the things I enjoyed. If was disappointed in myself, I would implement a plan of food restrictions and exercise that would give me a sense of control and satisfaction that I was dealing with my disappointing self. The behavior modification was the machete I wielded as I whacked at the symptoms of sin in my heart.
Over the years, the Lord sawed off branches and cut down the trunk of this tree, giving me new insight and truth with each section He cut and each rung He revealed. Then last year, He exposed the root: at a very young age I was exposed to pornography. Because I didn’t understand the images or the feelings they stirred in me, I decided there was something wrong with me. I was disgusting! When that lie took root, it grew a tree with lots of sick branches! No matter how hard, long or intensely I whacked at the branches and longed for them to be gone, until God revealed the root and replaced it with His truth, the tree was going to produce sick branches.
The exposure to pornography was not my fault. I did not ask for it or seek it out, but I had to take responsibility for the decisions I made as a result, including believing the lie that I was disgusting. I had to see my sin, own it, confess it, grieve it and then believe in God’s complete forgiveness and the truth His word declares about me, including the fact that He deals with those who deal unjustly with us.
I am only responsible for my own choices – then and now – not someone else’s. I am responsible to confess my sin, change the way I think by believing God’s truth over every lie, cooperate through obedience to His word as He transforms me from the inside out to look more like Jesus, forgive and believe.
For me, the tree with its sin root and sick branches is a picture of dealing with the lies and unbelief in our own hearts and mindsets as manifested in wrong thoughts, words and actions – the way our thoughts and heart attitudes determine our choices. Sinful roots produce sinful choices every time. The root determines the fruit.
When Jesus saves us and the Lord gives us new life in Christ, we are a new creation. Instantly. But we remain in this body of flesh with its sin nature and the battle with sin will last our earthly tenure. The process of sanctification and transformation is a lifetime process of the Lord exposing the roots of sin in our lives and working with us to grind them out. I want to be sure to clarify that a sick tree isn’t necessarily the sign of an unsaved soul; a sick tree can simply be a picture of what happens in a child of God who allows sin to remain in the root system. There can be sick trees in the forest of saved lives.
Are you exhausted from whacking at the branches of a sick tree in your forest? We can also wear ourselves out trying to trim other peoples’ trees! Does that ring true for you too? Do you need the Holy Spirit to start sawing off branches, cutting down the trunk, grinding the stump and killing and/or rerouting the root system? Do you need to quit trimming another person’s tree, forego the role of Holy Spirit and get out of His way?
GOD IS FAITHFUL. He leads and guides us into all truth. He will do it for others, too. When we ask Him to show us His truth about us and for us, He is so faithful to answer from His word. He will speak directly to our hearts, and He will let us know it’s Him.
Turn to Him.
Lay down your machete and simply be a tree in His forest. As you rest in Him, He will prune what doesn’t bring Him glory and produce fruit that does.